On the 15th-22nd of October Tashkent hosted the 5th International Contemporary Art Biennale. The organization of such significant exhibitions has become a wonderful tradition of the city that has made Tashkent one of the major centres of contemporary art. At the same time, the dynamics of the Tashkent Biennales shows that the scale of these international projects is growing, which has largely to do with increasing economic power of Uzbekistan, and the apparent progress in its financial capacity that enables offering the participating artists exhibition sites which have nothing comparable anywhere in the post-soviet countries. The Biennale opening ceremony held at the Central Exhibition Hall (CEH) of the Academy of Arts of Uzbekistan was unprecedented in scale (around two thousand people attended) and was marked by a colourful theatrical performance in which modern audio and video techniques were used.
This year the capital city marked its 2200th anniversary, and it was decided to dedicate the Biennale to the problem of urbanism in its anthropological and cultural/philosophic aspect, which was reflected in the slogan of the exhibition: “Urban Philosophy: Anthropological Landscape”. This conceptual idea is linked both to the aspects of urbanism, and to the relevant issues of contemporary civilization. In the view of the Tashkent Biennale organizers, the problem of urbanism is interesting as a process of reflecting in art the atmosphere of a big city and the dynamics of people’s life in an urban space. The primary position remains to express the philosophy, sentiment and moral collisions of a contemporary urban dweller, regardless of where the city is located, in the East or in the West.
As usual, the organizers of the Biennale were the “Forum for Uzbekistan’s Culture and Art” Foundation, the Academy of Arts, UNESCO Office in Uzbekistan and the Tashkent City Khokimiyat. The 5th International Tashkent Biennale ran in a new format – as part of the Artweek. Fashion shows of renowned couturiers and fashion designers together with painting exhibitions had given it a new, higher social and professional status. This was noted not only by experts and the participants themselves, but also by numerous spectators whose number increased largely due to this extended format of the Biennale.
More than ninety leading artists from many countries and over a hundred artists from Uzbekistan demonstrated the entire range of styles and forms of contemporary global representational art: from video-art, performance and installations to painting, sculpture, graphic arts and photography, in the venues such as the Central Exhibition Hall, the Tashkent House of Photography, the Fine Arts Gallery of Uzbekistan, the “Culture and Art of Uzbekistan” exhibition hall, the Ikuo Hirayama Culture Caravanserai, and the State Art Museum.
The important feature of the V Tashkent Biennale was an academic conference under the title “Contemporary Art – The Strategy of Choice” that was held as part of the programme to address relevant issues of global art. The conference was attended by leading art critics and artists from twelve countries: Spain, Germany, Austria, South Africa, Poland, Latvia, Estonia, Russia, Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, Turkey and Uzbekistan. The conference focused primarily on the analytical assessment of contemporary art in the environment of globalisation and global economic crisis. Presentations were accompanied by the demonstration of lead artists’ works from a country being presented, which provided a good visualization of contemporary global art development process.
The Central Exhibition Hall displayed mostly the works of Uzbekistan artists, except two original items created by the artists from Korea and Japan. One is an installation called “Chiaroscuro” by Nonki Nishimura (Japan) – a cube-like colourful tent (the Second Prix of the Biennale) with stylized images of animals and birds which are metaphorical avatars of the forces of nature, alienation from which in a megapolis environment dramatically narrows the spiritual resource of contemporaneity. Four abstract paintings by a Korean artist Keunchan Jeong, which were hanging from the ceiling, accompanied the philosophic installation of the Japanese artist; this was one of the most successful improvisations of the local exposition designers. These two items created a kind of a spatial overture to the CEH exposition, where the 2nd level was allocated to the participants from Uzbekistan. Here, along with an installation by Y. Alagir and an interactive project by I. Finkelstein, on display were the paintings of both well-known and young Uzbekistan artists. Assessing the overall exposition of this hall, one should say that with all the diversity of plastic solutions, unfortunately, most of the works had been created prior to the announcement of the Biennale concept; therefore, one could sense a kind of incongruity between the organizers’ declared ideas and the content of presented items. Despite this fact, the works by F. Akhmadaliev, J. Umarbekov, M. Isanov, D. Mamedova and others, as well as a futuristic panel by B. Jalalov that decorated the CEH facade, have become true artistic discovery of the Biennale.
Most of the works by overseas artists were displayed in the Fine Arts Gallery. The art of each participating country was grouped in a separate hall to create a nation-specific presentation.
Media-installation atmosphere created by a well-known woman artist Meher Afroz (“Inscriptions on the Wall”) and a young media artist Syed Yasir Hussain (“Shakled”), both from Pakistan, featuring expressive minimalism rare in oriental aesthetics, have made the exposition in this hall exquisite and constructively pragmatic in terms of imagery, which is uncharacteristic of the East.
Two well-known painters from Estonia – Jaan Elken (“White Stripes”, “Mattress from Left to Right”, “All Your Stories Have Been Staged”, 2009) and Mari Roosvalt (triptych “Situation I”, “Situation II” and “Situation III”, 2008) – presented a series of cold and restrained yet very expressive pictures. The spectrum of readable emotions ranges from intense dramatic vocabulary to ironic or indifferent statement. Jaan Elken earned a special Biennale Diploma for the original solution for the topical subject-matter.
Three painters from Germany demonstrated drama- and colour-intense canvases. Akbar Behkalam received the 1st Biennale Award for his works (triptych “Human Landscape” (1997), “In Light of the Fire” (2004), and “Blinded” (2004)). German national of Iranian origin, he, like many of his follow-countrymen, had to leave his motherland many years ago. Behkalam powerfully communicates his personal experiences and associations, which acquire the scale a social tragedy in his paintings. Siegfried Horst is remembered for his expressive, bright and slightly grotesque portraits (“The Man with a Skull-Cap”, “Father and Son”, “Wounded”, “Dialogue” – all created in 2008; “The One Who Questions” and “In Expectation” (2009)), and his spouse Brigitte Stanke – for her light and airy installations (“Salome’s New Clothes” and “Cocoon”, 2009). One cannot think of these artists’ works as of an integral pavilion, especially that the works were displayed in different halls, but one can make a conclusion about big variety of positions and views of the German masters and rather tolerant coexistence thereof.
Anna Zadros, a Dane of Polish origin, created an installation project “239 Meters of Red Line” (2008-2009), in which space-piercing red threads create the sense of alert interconnection between going and coming time, telling a dramatic story of loneliness in the modern world.
In their installations “Formula” and “The Invisible Music” (2009, and in a photo composition “Euro” (2009) Buston Tursunov and Salim Bahriddinov, artists from Tajikistan, presented efforts to address plastic objectives taking into account relevant social context.
Paintings, photographs, installations and performance art of a numerous group of the US artists fit into one hall and presented a diversity of topics – from unsophisticated open-air compositions by Cynthia Erdahl, Marsden Williams and Susan Swendsen, Ann Savage, to associative, socially determined works by Thomas A. Daniel, Fred Weatherford, James Miller, Kathleen Marcovitz, Barry Roebook and Heeja Sung.
Lieuwke Loth, a Dutch woman artist with background in sculpture, apart from her works under “The Turkistan Remake” project, also created installations from stones (“Body Landscape”, 2009) painted as human faces. This original composition in the form of human figures laid with stones is filled with subtle lyricism. Graceful lines on stones picture human faces – smiling, sad, or absorbed in thought – yet these are not psychological portraits but a record of spiritual state communicated with the artist’s concerned hand.
Except for the paintings by Natalya Bazhenova and Oleg Enin, Russia was represented at the Fine Arts Gallery by photographs, some of which were displayed in the Tashkent House of Photography (Anastasia Kedrovskaya). Quite interesting are the compositions by A. Yesipovich (“Nuptials” series, 2009) and N. Anfalova (“Garden Zone”, 2007), which show unpretentious social analysis that sometimes exposes reality. V. Tolstov put his impressions about Uzbekistan cities in his photo compositions “Samarqand, the City of Sky” and “Bukhara, City on the Back of the Turtle”, both created in 2009.
The Fine Arts Gallery also displayed a triptych titled “Microcosmos-2″ (2009) with slightly smaller paintings by a renowned Turkish woman artist Setenay Park Ozbek who received the 3rd Biennale Award. Her works are full of expression, peaceful and poeticized: in applique-like stylized turquoise and flaming red figures of humans and birds one can discern the outlines of a fantastical universe. Her compatriots, painters Alaybey Karoglu (“Abstract Composition”, 2008) and Orhan Cebrailoglu (“Dream”, “Urban Melancholy”, 2008), have quieter paintings, intonation-wise.
The theme of urban ecology sounded in a series of graphic art works of a South African woman artist Jeannette Unite (“The Depth of a Mine”, “The Structure of an Old Gold Mine”, “Kimberly, Viewed from a Different Angle” – all dating to 2008-2009). Originally these are installation projects but due to technical reasons Unite prepared their graphic versions using unique natural materials and eventually earned the Jury Diploma.
Kazakhstan was represented by the “ОЮ” (OYU) Gallery (G. Shalabaev). This is philosophical and association photography by Andrei Nod (“Abandoned City” from the 2009 series) and heartfelt painting novels by E. Fridlin (“Courtyard”, “Morning”, “Ravens” – all created in 2007).
Artists from the Kyrgyz Republic demonstrated a conceptually interesting series of photographs by N. Kolotov titled “Tashkent”, where utility fragments such as latch, cupboard or crockery were called to create an image of a whole – the urban atmosphere in this case. These works were displayed at the CEH. The Gallery presented paintings by his compatriot Roza Dangarycheva “Under the Blue Sky” (2006) and “The City” (2009), lyrical and subtle in mood.
Artists from Azerbaijan brought to the Biennale paintings – Inna Kostina (“No Title”, 2009), Nazim Rehmanov (“People and Time”, 1992-2007), as well as photographs and video-art: T. Ibragimova (“Perpetual Motion Machine”, “Opposition”, “Reflection in the Night” – all 2007), L. Akhunzade (“Oil”, 2009), and S. Ibragimova (“My Home”, 2008).
The ground floor of the Fine Arts Gallery offered video- and photographic works by a Frenchman Jean Sebastian Lelleman and the group of Spanish video-artists (Virgina Villiplana, Karles Santos, Bartolome Ferrado, and Mai Monleon),which were presented by Maria Teresa Beguiristain, an art critic from Spain. With all thematic and plastic originality, their common characteristic is harsh and socially acute presentation manner and irrational sculpturing, which often leads the authors to modernized versions of classic European nihilism of the last century. A particularly strong response was triggered by an installation “Other Spaces” (2009) created by Ireneusz Solarek, prize-winner of the last Biennale; it was positioned in the major left side hall on the ground floor of the Gallery. A decision to offer all this space to one artist had been taken before the start of the Biennale once the organizers studied a detailed description of the project. The experience shows that the decision was justified. The Jury awarded Solarek the 2nd prize for his sculpturally and philosophically original light-spatial composition that perfectly expresses the idea of constantly changing, volatile and flickering reality.
Also here, on the ground floor, the Gallery positioned a project titled “The Turkistan Remake” (idea by A. Khakimov, curator Z. Nasirova) that, along with 14 Uzbek artists, also engaged Lieuwke Loth from the Netherlands, which made the project international. The plan is to dedicate a separate article to the detailed overview of the project.
“The Turkistan Remake” is based on photographic materials from a well-known fundamental “Turkistan Album” published in 1871-1871, which is a collection of photographs of urban and rural Turkistan residents of different social groups and professions, the pictures of landscapes, streets, squares, market-places, etc. Prior to the project, this rich stratum of the national history never became the object of artistic arrangement. These are not only unique documents of their own value, but a wonderful material for artistic interpretation. The main objective of the project is to show how contemporary artists (with different aesthetic and technological preferences, namely painting, video-art, performance, graphic arts, photography) can approach and offer a new rendition of the recent history in terms of exposing in their works the uniqueness of characters, life-lines and atmosphere of that time. Artists from Uzbekistan who work in different styles and manners, i.e. painting, installation, graphic arts, photography, etc. were invited to work on the project: A. Ikramjanov, S. Rahmetov, B. Ismailov, A. Alikulov, T. Akhmedov, Z. Sharipova, D. Ahmadaliev, G. Ibragimov, D. Razzykov, N. Sharafkhojaeva, S. Jabbarov, A. Salijanov, V. Yenini, N. Rasulov and others. As the list shows, the group included both well-known and young artists.
It should be mentioned that most of the special diplomas of the Jury in different nominations were given to the participants of this particular project, which testifies to the recognition of its conceptual and artistic fruitfulness.
An interesting exposition was deployed at the Tashkent House of Photography featuring the photographs and installations of contemporary artists from Uzbekistan and Russia, namely N. Kuzieva, M. Gamburgskaya, E. Kedrovskaya, K. Mukhamedjanova, S. Drabkov, P. Kim, et al. Quite unusual is the project titled “Marginalia” or “Art for People” by M. Aripova that was awarded a special prize of the Union of Artists International Committee . The project presents the specimens of a typical urban interior of the second half of the past century. One can see how the artist implements the theme of echoing times and linked traditions; one can hear nostalgic notes for the irreversibly bygone past.
The “Culture and Art of Uzbekistan” exhibition hall housed an interesting exposition that, together with a series of installations, also presented paintings and graphic art of Korean artists. At the centre of the room there was a huge round composition by K. Norkhurozov made of bulk earth, on the subject of a mythological origin of life, which determined the spatial atmosphere of the exposition. A series of original installations by young artists E. Kondrtiev, P. Timofeev, A. Lamanov and T. Rahmetov was also accommodated in this hall.
Biennale provided a framework for a personal exhibition of a renowned Austrian artist Reinhard Brandner, who presented technologically unique paintings wrought with the use of precious metals such as gold and silver.
The State Art Museum displayed another Biennale project – an exhibition called “Sisters’ Remake” showing 30 works by a well-known woman artist Shamsira Khasanova who active worked in 1940s-1950s, and her contemporary followers – an Uzbek woman artist Shoira Khasanova and Vietnamese painter Nguen Thi Hien. Different manner notwithstanding, the paintings shared first-class workmanship and continuity of tradition; both artists search for subtle human sensations and moral meanings.
The closing ceremony held at the Palace of Young People’s Art on the 21st of October presented the results of the V International Tashkent Biennale. The international panel of jury announced the names of the winners in different nominations. The Grand Prix for the best author’s idea was awarded to Akbar Khakimov, art critic from Uzbekistan (“The Turkistan Remake” project); the First Prize went to the artist from Germany Akbar Behkalam; the 2nd Prize was given to Nonki Nishimura (Japan) and Ireneusz Solarek (Poland) for the installations; and the 3rd prize went to the woman artist from Turkey Setenay Park Ozbek.
The 2009 Biennale has become another evidence of the fact that Uzbekistan appeals not only by its cultural heritage, but also by its contemporary art. In the framework of the Biennale foreign artists and art critics shared their experiences and discussed potential joint projects, including the one of running the 2010 International Artists Forum in Tashkent; it was decided to formulate its concept in early 2010 through a joined effort of art critics and artists of Uzbekistan, South Africa, France, Spain, Netherlands, Russia and Germany. Thus, the 5th Tashkent Biennale, having demonstrated new trends in contemporary art, has opened new prospects for a productive dialogue between the artists in Uzbekistan and in other countries.